Encouragement · Hope · SowKind Movement

The Unveiling of a Birthday Surprise

Early in life, I equated being good and right with being lovable. The result was to stuff a world of ideas and dreams deep within because it prevented me from being disappointed–which felt wrong somehow.

A skewed perspective, compounded with trauma, kept a tight grip on me for many years. Fear routinely drove my decision to sit down, be silent, and disregard long imagined dreams. I swallowed the warnings, stuffed the insight, and settled for being a good girl who flew under the radar.

I existed for many years following the rules, shrinking back, and living with an indescribable heartache because I was not pursuing who I was created to be. I didn’t know it was safe or good.

Fast forward to 2018. Flying under the radar was a well-worn path for me; it had become my native tongue. Then–a precious friend invited me to attend a Life Plan Retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to REKINDLE YOUR PASSIONS. DISCOVER YOUR PURPOSE. LIVE DIFFERENTLY.

I was like, YES, I want that! What I failed to consider was the work that would be required of me. I packed my bags and headed to the weekend retreat. I had work that I was supposed to do beforehand, and yet I still somehow managed not to prepare my heart for the dramatic change that was about to unfold.

When you fly under the radar, you keep things as smooth as possible. No ripples. No waves. That had led me to a life of utter dullness. Even in my relationship with the Lord, I recognized my quick response to serve and do, but my hesitancy to sit, be, and receive. I had learned not to have needs.

Then Life Plan happened. I sat face to face with the truth that I was living a boring story. I was living in the shallow end of my faith because it was safe. It was easier for me to believe that safety was best because my narrative was full of evidence that pointed to that truth. I flew under the radar and did NOT dare dream.

Dreaming felt like having needs. Since I had learned that having needs often led to disappointment, I silenced that part of my soul. One of the end results of Life Plan is to leave with a “Plan on a Page.” I labored through sessions to determine my core values, compose a succinct purpose statement, and vision. Participants were encouraged to set a date to fulfill the goals, so I selected my birthday three years from the retreat weekend.

Zoom on in to read a few of my goals.

All the goals felt VERY FAR OFF. I could not imagine any of them coming to fruition. Well, that is not entirely true because I had already been published in A Moment to Breathe at this point, but I wanted to publish a bible study I had written a few years prior. I am excited to tell you that Broken Vessels Bible Study will be released this fall! Email subscribers have seen a sneak peek of the study–squeal; you can join my email list here for more updates as the release date approaches.

The other goals–specifically the last one–did not feel attainable. Maybe you understand how rare it is to find a vintage VW bus in good working condition. Maybe you have scoured the internet to find one only to be alarmed at the cost. To be honest, I never invested a single moment of time doing either one. However, if you know my husband, you know he is a car lover, so as soon as he saw my life plan, he started looking. For three years he looked, hoped, and prayed for the right bus.

Two weeks ago, John showed me a picture of a bus on ebay. It was cute, but I was not terribly interested in the color. He placed a bid and was quickly outbid. And then…well, I think you should hear the story from him.

I remember when Alyssa returned from that retreat in 2018. She had put down on paper specific goals with an expiration date to achieve each.  Each was bold to say the least but the one that I took immediate ownership of was her desire to have a “Hippie Bus”- by her 45th birthday; not only would it be her dream car, but it would serve a good cause as the mode of transportation for a ministry she also hoped to begin.   

I am not sure she knew how seriously I took my portion of her list, but for me the search began that night.  Of course, we knew that ultimately it would be by the Lord’s provision but is it not through the hands and feet of His servants that He accomplishes a good work? As far as I knew–I was the only one at the altar that day who had taken the charge to care for His daughter – my wife.

I soon learned that VW Busses are expensive, even the ones that look like junkyard art. I scoured Craigslist and eBay weekly and sometimes daily.  When I found one I really liked, it was usually out of our price range, but I would contact the seller anyway.  I always began the exchange with a compliment – I mean, why am I contacting them if I did not like their bus, right?  If I could get a dialogue going, and it felt “kosher” to do, I would mention its potential service as a ministry bus.  I was always certain that it meant the price was firm, when the reply would come back, “good luck with your search!” 

I never lost hope though, and I continued my search.  Unfortunately, Alyssa’s 45th birthday did come and go. Before long, the countdown for 46 began, so I amped up my efforts in hopes of securing a VW bus before the one year anniversary of the missed deadline.  

I did get my hopes up a few weekends ago when I found one for sale locally; I woke up early on that Saturday, wanting to fly under the radar and go see it.  Call it confidence or desperation about the impending “deadline” but I felt prompted to get my finances in order; I needed to be certain of our max-budget. After speaking with the owner on the phone and him confidently exclaiming “John, I think this is your bus!” I really got excited. This could be the one!  

As it turned out, it was not – but I did get a delicious Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast and some great conversation for the investment of time that morning.  Nevertheless, I felt deflated because our trip to Arizona was coming up, and the following week would be Alyssa’s birthday. I thought my time was up and figured I should “take the “L”, as our youngest son likes to say, but then the tide began to turn again.

A few days later I received a notice about a bus I had been watching – another beautiful long shot – with an invitation to bid on it.  The high bid had not moved since the first time I had viewed it and, “hmm., it is located in Arizona” I read with interest.  “We will be in Arizona next week!” I further mused.  I messaged the buyer as if price were not an issue (it was a stretch at the current bid) and asked whether he thought it would be safe to drive it from there to our home in Texas – “CALL ME!” was his response.

I did, and he did not disappoint. He sounded larger than life, and I had him pegged as a New Jersey native.  “It’s a great bus” he said emphatically, “it could easily sell for 2-3 times the current bid!” he posed–and my heart sank.  “Wow, I’m sure it could” I replied, trying to speak over the lump in my throat.  “Oh, and it would definitely make it to Texas!” was his “deal” closer.  “Then I will definitely keep watching it” I responded.  “Watch it? Make me an offer and we can end it tonight!”  Yikes!  I really needed to “win” it at the lowest bid possible, but I did not want to insult him, so I told him I would have to discuss with my wife; that I would let him know what we had decided.

72 hours passed before I knew; it was after dinner on a Tuesday, and I received a final notice from eBay that bidding was ending for “that bus” you have been watching. “Don’t miss out… place your bid!” I called Alyssa over to look – at this point I needed her buy-in – while I would have loved to surprise her, I wanted it to be in a good way.  “It’s nice,” she said followed by “red is not my first choice, but I like it.”  “Should we bid?” I teased.  “I mean, can we afford it?” she emoted.  “I mean, it is definitely a stretch, but most likely we will be outbid anyway” I assured her.  “Go for it!” she said, so I did. 

We were immediately outbid. I felt like Charlie from Willy Wonka, dropping all my coin for the freaking chocolate bars and no Golden Ticket!  “Should I go up in increments of $500” I prodded, Alyssa, trying to hide my disappointment. She was sure the person I was bidding against had a max-bid in place that would swallow every ante we offered.  She was right.  I finally relented after going $1,500 over our original max budget.  At least I helped drive his sale price up was my only consolation.  I went to bed, glad to at least have been in a contest to get my birthday girl closer to her dream.

The following morning when I finally checked my phone, I had three missed eBay messages from the seller. Before I could log into eBay to see what the messages said, a text rang in from the seller. “John, are you interested?!” 

In the hours after I had shut my computer down, the seller had been in communication with the “winner” and had received enough red flags to know that this sale was not going to happen. He wanted me to know that I was the next highest bidder.  “If you want the bus, it’s yours.  Do you?”  YES! I thought, but at what price?  I texted him a few minutes later and advised him that I would need to talk it over with my wife.  I filled Alyssa in briefly, but I let the entire day go by without getting back to the seller. All the while, the prospect of the bus consumed my mind and heart. “Lord, is this our bus?”

“Well, what did you decide?” was the seller’s inquiry later that evening.  “We have been talking and praying about it all day” I responded.  I mentioned that Alyssa was discussing it with a ministry partner because they were hoping that a VW bus could be used as part of their community outreach.  His immediate response caught me completely off guard. Here is a picture of our correspondence.

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Fast forward a few days and we were on our way to Tucson after a weekend at the Grand Canyon with two of our three children, a trip that coincidently had been planned well in advance of this opportunity.  Now we were rapidly approaching the address for an apartment in Scottsdale, AZ where we would see the VW in person; pay for it if we liked it, and either cash and carry or have it shipped to us. We were feeling tired from the weekend and weary from being on the road, so doubts began setting in. What if this was not a legitimate deal?

Alyssa was nervous, so she asked if she and Andrew could wait in the car. I was a little on edge too, but I was committed at this point. I met the seller’s wife and brother; shortly thereafter the van was ushered out of the garage it was being stored in. It was real and with review of the VIN, I quickly confirmed that it was indeed the bus listed on eBay.  The seller’s family kept inviting me to bring my family in, but I politely excused them to our vehicle and followed them into the apartment to take care of the business portion of the deal. 

While the brother and I presented the title and handwritten bill of sale, almost in a trance, I pulled out the funds I had brought to fulfill the financial portion of the deal. I was all in, and I would be trusting them to ship to me, as long as the title was in my hand.  During this time, the seller’s wife kept saying “this is God’s will” and “so many women are going to blessed” and the brother’s wife chimed in, “yes, please just pray for us too” and then the wife joined, “yes, please pray for us!”  “My husband is under a lot of pressure, and he has lost so many family members in the past year, including his father!” I was moved and felt myself wanting to tear up, so I asked, “may I pray for you all now?”  Immediately, they all stood up, and we joined in a small circle, all four of us.  As we bowed our heads, the brother pleaded, “please pray for my son – his wife just left him for another man!” Seeing the pain in his eyes, I prayed for the family right then.  Afterwards, I thanked them profusely and told them that I looked forward to meeting the seller with his wife when they travel through Texas in August. We said our goodbyes, and the brother assured me that the seller would take care of the shipping promptly. 

As we finished the remainder of our journey to our hotel, I asked Alyssa to send a message to the seller thanking him and telling him that we had enjoyed meeting his family, that we had prayed together, and that I looked forward to meeting him soon. He responded with praise and thanksgiving because he sincerely believed God had told him this bus was for us despite all the higher offers he continued to receive after our handshake deal.  

When we finally arrived at our hotel, I reached out again to thank him and to put a bug in his ear that I was anxious to learn about the shipping details. To my surprise, he responded instantly and said that the bus would be picked up the following morning (Monday) and that we could expect it to arrive within 2-4 days.  “Wow!” I responded, “it may just make it here in time for Alyssa’s birthday.”  “When is her birthday?” he asked.  I replied, “July 16th.”  His response was unexpected.  “July 16th will mark the one-year anniversary of my losing my dad, and I was preparing for how difficult it was going to be!”  he explained.  He went on to tell me that he knew now that God had orchestrated everything and that he would find comfort in that on the 16th.  With that we said our goodnights.

The following day as we finished our journey home, we were reflecting on the great time we had at the Grand Canyon, and that while we did not have it in our garage yet, we had finally secured a bus for Alyssa.  Alyssa was then prompted to read an excerpt of the Life Plan she had created 3 years earlier and the final goal she had desired to achieve was to have obtained a bus for the ministry she would have – and the deadline was her 46th birthday, not her 45th birthday–as I had believed for so long.  I later shared with the buyer about Alyssa’s LP, and by this time, we were simply overwhelmed by all the ways that God’s provision was all over our transaction.  We are eternally grateful, and we are holding onto the bus loosely as we embark on this new journey that began with Alyssa’s obedience to bare her heart and submit her requests to our gracious and generous Father.  

-John

What in the world? Isn’t she adorable? I am still pinching myself AND brushing up on my clutch skills. It has been a hot minute! I will share more about how this bus will be used in future endeavors–it’s really exciting!

Fear threatened in inexplicable ways over the past week. I was ready to scrap my dream because I had thought of every possible worst-case scenario that accompanied the prospect of making a deal with perfect strangers. It is instinctive for me to return to a familiar pattern of flying under the radar. The events of the past week stretched me, and I was reminded that I am still a work in progress.


There are many lessons to take away from this experience, but there is one that stands out.

Trauma and fear don’t own us. Although we often subjugate ourselves to their ownership, we are free to move on.


I’ll say it louder.

WE ARE FREE TO MOVE ON.

I’ll tell you what the little girl needed to know. Dream big–even if your dreams feel small or silly to others.

Sometimes our wildest dreams become current realities. Sometimes our dreams won’t amount to anything. Dream anyway.


Happy birthday to me!

See you on the road,

13 thoughts on “The Unveiling of a Birthday Surprise

  1. Happy Birthday, sister ❤️. I thank God for His provision over your life – in all the ways – and especially in leading John to you. He has championed you from day one with fierce and sacrificial love. Praying for you as you begin a new journey of ministry. To God be the glory! 1 Cor. 3:7-9

    I love you! B

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear daughter #3 (birth order only) early before daylight this morning I wondered how I could use social media to celebrate you on this day of your birth. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw ur blog announcing text that ur long awaited-for VW bus was now in ur driveway!!!! Happy happy birthday baby girl from your ever growing and learning (hopefully) momma who is thanking our powerful, loving Saviour for His faithful care and provision for His children.
    🙏 🎂 xOx

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Congratulations dear Alyssa on the fulfillment of your dream! I am certain that your bus will be used to glorify God, as does your life!
    Love from your friend, Rosemary

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s awesome!! I can’t wAit to see your VW Bus! Precious John❤️

    Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You. Ps. 9:10

    >

    Liked by 2 people

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